THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

25 posts categorized "Middle East"

11 February 2021

Investigating Instances of Arabic Verb Form X in the BL/QFP Translation Memory

Add comment

The Arabic language has a root+pattern morphology where words are formed by casting a (usually 3-letter) root into a morphological template of affixed letters in the beginning, middle and/or end of the word. While most of the meaning comes from the root, the template itself adds a layer of meaning. For our latest Hack Day, I investigated uses of Arabic Verb Form X (istafʿal) in the BL/QFP Translation Memory.

I chose this verb form because it conveys the meaning of seeking or acquiring something for oneself, possibly by force. It is a transitive verb form where the subject may be imposing something on the object and can therefore convey subtle power dynamics. For example, it is the form used to translate words such as ‘colonise’ (yastaʿmir) and ‘enslave’ (yastaʿbid). I wanted to get a sense of whether this form could reflect unconscious biases in our translations – an extension of our work in the BLQFP team to address problematic language in cataloguing and translation.

The other reason I chose this verb form is that it is achieved by affixing three consonants to the beginning of the word, which made it possible to search for in our Translation Memory (TM). The TM is a bilingual corpus, stretching back to 2014, of the catalogue descriptions we translate for the digitised India Office Records and Arabic scientific manuscripts on the QDL. We access the TM through our translation management system (memoQ), which offers some basic search functionalities. This includes a ‘wild card’ option where the results list all the words that begin with the three Form X consonants under investigation (است* and يست*).

Snippet of results in memoQ using the wildcard search function
Figure 1: Snippet of results in memoQ using the wildcard search function.

 

My initial search using these two 3-letter combinations returned 2,140 results. I noticed that there were some recurring false positives such as certain place names and the Arabic calque of ‘strategy’ (istrātījiyyah). The most recurring false positive (699 counts), however, was the Arabic verb for ‘receive’ (istalam) – which is unsurprising given frequent references to correspondences being sent and received in catalogue descriptions of IOR files. What makes this verb a false positive is that the ‘s’ is in fact a root consonant, and therefore the verb actually belongs to Form VIII (iftaʿal). 

After eliminating these false positives, I ended up with 1349 matches. From these, I was able to identify 55 unique verbs used in relation to IOR files. I then conducted a more targeted search of three cases of each verb: the perfective (past) istafʿal, the imperfective (present) yastafʿil, and the verbal noun (istifʿāl). I used the wild card function again to capture variations of these cases with suffixes attached (e.g. pronoun or plural suffixes). Although these would have been useful too, I did not look for the active (mustafʿil) and passive (mustafʿal) participles because the single short vowel that differentiates them is rarely represented in Arabic writing. Close scrutiny of the context of each result would have been needed in order to assign them correctly, and I did not have enough time for that in a single day.

List of the Form X verbs found in the TM and their frequency (excluding six verbs that only occur once)
Figure 2: List of the Form X verbs found in the TM and their frequency (excluding six verbs that only occur once)

 

I made a note of the original English term(s) that the Form X verb was used to translate. I then identified seven potentially problematic verbs that required further investigation. These six verbs typically convey an action that is being either forcefully or wrongfully imposed.

Seven potentially problematic verbs that take Form X in the TM
Figure 3: Seven potentially problematic verbs that take Form X in the TM

 

My next step was to investigate the use of these verbs in context more closely. I looked at the most frequent of these verbs (istawlá/yastawlī/istīlaʾ) in our TM, first using the source + target view, and then the three-column concordance view of the target text. The first view allowed me to scrutinise how we have been employing this verb vis-à-vis the original term used in the English catalogue description. It struck me that, in some cases, more neutral verbs such as ‘take’ and ‘take possession of’ were used on the English side; meaning that bias was introduced during translation.

Source + target view of concordance results for the verb istawlá
Figure 4: Source + target view of concordance results for the verb istawlá

 

The second view makes it possible to see the text immediately preceding and succeeding the verb, typically displaying the assigned subject and object of the verb. It therefore shows who is doing what to whom more clearly, even though the script direction goes a bit awry for Arabic. Here, I noticed that the subjects were disproportionately non-British: it is overwhelmingly native rulers and populations, ‘pirates’, and rival countries who were doing the forceful or wrongful taking in the results. This may indicate an unconscious bias that has travelled from the primary sources to the catalogue descriptions and is something that requires further investigation.

Three-column view of concordance results for the verb istawlá
Figure 5: Three-column view of concordance results for the verb istawlá

 

My hack day investigation was conducted in the spirit of continuous reflection on and improvement of our translation process. Using a verb form rather than specific words as a starting point provided an aggregate view of our practices, which is useful in trying to tease out how the descriptions on the QDL may collectively convey an overall stance or attitude. My investigation also demonstrates the value of our TM, not only for facilitating and maintaining consistency in translation, but as a research tool with countless possibilities. My findings from the hack day are naturally rough-and-ready, but they provide the seed for further conversations about problematic language and unconscious bias among translators and cataloguers.

This is a guest post by linguist and translator Dr Mariam Aboelezz (@MariamAboelezz), Translation Support Officer, BL/QFP Project

24 December 2020

BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020, Rewind, Reflections, Box-sets and Seasons Greetings

Add comment

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

This action packed, detailed 'rewind' and festive bumper edition blog post about last week's largest ever BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020, contains some hidden seasonal gifts🎁(if you read very carefully) to bring you seasonal cheer. The post rounds off a difficult and challenging 2020 for the BL Labs team and I am sure for everyone else.

In the new year, we will release this post in a series of shorter parts, but for now you have the opportunity to read the whole account together.

BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020 - detailed report

MENU (Jump to different sections)

  1. About the BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020
  2. Rewind the BL Labs Symposium 2020
  3. Feedback on the Symposium
  4. Keynote by Ruth Ahnert
  5. End keynote by Anasuya Sengupta
  6. BL Labs update by Mahendra Mahey
  7. Digital Research Team update by Adi Keinan-Schoonbeart
  8. Research Services update by Rachael Kortarski
  9. BL Labs Public Awards 2020
  10. BL Labs People's Choice Public Award 2020
  11. BL Labs Staff Awards 2020
  12. BL Labs Box Sets
  13. Conclusion

The BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020 is an annual event and awards ceremony showcasing innovative projects that use, experiment with and have been inspired by the British Library's physical and digital collections and data through BL Labs and / or through collaborations with other people in and outside the Library.

The Labs symposium provides a platform for highlighting and engaging with the British Library’s and other  GalleriesLibrariesArchives and Museums or (GLAMs) through their Labs or similar facilities that enable, support and encourage access and experimentation with their digital collections and data for research, inspiration and enjoyment.

For those GLAMs and / or organisations that don't have similar digital Labs, would like one, support the concept of experimentation with their digital collections generally, or even for those that haven't engaged with GLAM Labs before, why not join our GLAM Labs mailing list or slack channel 🎁 to start a conversation with us. 

You can also download our 🎁 book 'Open a GLAM Lab' to read over this festive period to inspire you to start on your own personal journey into the world of GLAM Labs.

The BL Labs Awards this year recognised outstanding use of British Library's digital content in the categories of Research, Artistic, Educational, Community and British Library staff contributions. Through the BL Labs Public Awards 2020, we made a special request for project submissions about or developed during this century-defining COVID-19 pandemic and / or a request for work that focused on some of the current BL Labs priorities, namely anti-racism (especially in the context for racial equality globally) and the use of Jupyter Notebooks for computational research with data.

Our eighth annual symposium took place for the first time entirely online via the 'Zoom Webinar' platform and was broadcast live and simultaneously on YouTube between 1400-1700 GMT on Tuesday 15 December 2020. We have also had a suggestion from Sarah Cole to try out an alternative platform called 'Hopin'🎁, which we will definitely be looking at (Sarah was a previous BL Labs Awards Commercial Award runner-up with Poetic Places🎁and had two other submissions one for the Awards  - 'Badigical Kingdom: Repurposing Public Domain Images to Make Badges🎁and an idea submitted for the BL Labs competition called 'The Maniacal Curator: A Tabletop Game using the British Library Flickr Collection'🎁).

We had over 350 unique attendees who participated live in the Labs symposium. People came from all over the world, ranging from Europe, the USA and Australia and from different academic fields and professional sectors.  The total number of viewers who have now watched the symposium is steadily rising largely because of those who are watching it after the live broadcast, we really hope the event will reach a wider global audience over time. I feel the way we consume events such as the symposium as well as other types of 'conferences' will be more online and be the new 'normal' in the future. It's clear that what is currently happening to the events' industry happened to terrestrial broadcast TV a number of years ago, in that it has now largely  a mostly on-demand service. Having over 350 viewers for a live online broadcast may seem like a modest number, however for us, this was actually the most number of live attendees we have ever had for our symposium and an opportunity for many to attend who were never able to attend previously because of time zone clashes and not being able to be physically present in London. We were especially pleased with this number, considering that there were a host of other similar online events going on at exactly the same time. So in case you missed it, you can still watch it for the first time (see details below as to how) or watch it again in case you missed something specific.

Going completely online for our symposium this year was a new 'experiment' for us in the BL Labs team.  We really wanted to ensure that the online version should still try to capture the spirit of the awards symposium, i.e. keep the audience engaged right through to the end, inject some fun, make it a true celebration and enable people to connect with each other. We learned a lot from the experience, we knew that there would inevitably be some teething problems however we are pretty pleased with how things went and what we were able to achieve given the time and resources we had available.

Embracing and learning from our mistakes is something we constantly do in a 'Labs' context, fail fast and better. It's part of my own guiding professional principles and something I constantly say when I speak to people who want to engage with BL Labs, especially when we work on experimental projects. A superb example which exemplifies and illustrates this philosophy is in a book by Shawn Graham, in Failing Gloriously and other Essays 🎁in which he documents his personal, entertaining, humorous, insightful and honest journey through digital humanities and digital archaeology against the backdrop of the 21st-century university.

Dan van Strien's Tweet about the BL Labs Symposium 2020
Dan van Strien's tweet about the 'build up' video before the BL Labs Symposium 2020 started, describing a 'clubbing' vibe' with music and graphics.
My colleague Filipe Bento (Technical Lead for BL Labs) was responsible for this as well as other snazzy videos during transitions between breaks and presenters. We hope they injected a bit of fun and a taste and spirit of an MTV style awards show into the event.

The online version of the symposium has sparked some great ideas for me personally in how to run events like this and we hope to implement some new innovations and experiments in the future.

Did you miss attending the BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020 or want to watch a part or the whole thing again?

You can view the recorded live footage of the Symposium below via YouTube below:


🎁Recording of the YouTube live-stream of the 8th BL Labs Symposium, 15 December 2020, conducted on Zoom Webinar.

If you prefer, you may want to 'skip' to key moments in the programme detailed in the list of links below:

14:00 - 14:05  Welcome and introduction (skip to this section)
Maja Maricevic, Head of Higher Education and Science, British Library

14:05 - 14:45 Humanists Living with Machines: reflections on collaboration and computational history during a global pandemic (skip to this section)
Ruth Ahnert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London  and Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' at The Alan Turing Institute.

14:45- 14:55  BL Labs update (skip to to this section)
Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs, British Library

15:10 - 15:15 Research Award (skip to this section) 
Naomi Billingsley, Research Development Manager, British Library

15:15 - 15:25  Digital Scholarship projects update (skip to this section) 
Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator, Asian and African Collections, the British Library.

15:25 – 15:30  The Artistic Award (skip to this section)
Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning, British Library

15:30 - 15:40  Research Services update (skip to this section)
Rachael Kotarski, Head of Research Infrastructure Services, British Library

15:40 - 15:45  The Teaching & Learning Award (skip to this section)
Ria Bartlett, Lead Producer: Onsite Learning at the British Library
(Please note that some of the videos shown in this section had poor audio and can be seen and heard again in our BL Labs Public Awards 2020 YouTube Playlist)

16:10 – 16:15  The Community Award (skip to this section)
Liz White, Head of Public Libraries and Community Engagement

16:15 - 16:25  The British Library Staff Award (skip to this section)
Jas Rai, Head of People, British Library
(Please note that some of the videos shown in this section had no audio and can be seen and heard again in our BL Labs Staff Awards YouTube playlist 2020.)

16:25 – 17:05  How to Decolonise the British Library in 3 (Un)Easy Step (skip to this section)
Anasuya Sengupta, Co-Director, Whose Knowledge?

17:05 – 17:15  'People's Favourite BL Labs Award' the RESULT and closing comments (skip to this section)
Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs, British Library

[back to menu]

Feedback on Symposium (during and after)

We have received some really positive comments about the event from live participants who rated it with an average of 8.9 out of 10 in terms of overall satisfaction by completing an event feedback survey at the time the event was live.

Comments included:

  • 'It was excellent, especially the opening and closing talks'
  • 'Getting a 'save the date' a bit earlier as there was a clash between many similar events online'
  • 'Having an event half way through the year would be great to give an update on BL Labs and other Digital Research projects as there are so many of them!!'

There were several other useful constructive comments which we are definitely going to think about and consider taking on board for future events and activities.

Calls to action

Participants on the day also logged 'calls to action' i.e. things they were going to do as a result of the event or things they wanted to encourage others to do:

  • 'Everyone must all watch the recordings and listen to the papers!'
  • 'Everyone who has done something relevant should enter the Awards, even if they're not sure that their work fits'
  • 'The event seemed quite academic, but it shed a light on how the digital archives are being used even if not all the terms are understood by the layman'
  • 'Several of the speakers highlighted extremely important topics that necessitate further engagement and research'
  • 'Machine learning based labelling and annotation and novel visualisation techniques to explore archives is something I am going to look into'
  • 'My personal research interest is identity (ethnic, cultural, religious, language, etc.) and how it is expressed both in literature and culture more generally by immigrants from other countries and cultures. I now have ideas of digital ways to pursue this within the BL collections as opposed to simply printed books'
  • 'Separate to the learning award, could there be a schools award? I'm thinking that maybe BL Labs could set a task and invite any school to take part'
  • The work on decolonaziation should be continued
  • 'Oral history archives - accessing transcripts, sound recordings and contextual information from a range of collections that could illuminate my current research based on published books of fiction and non-fiction in English'

Format for next year's event?

Interestingly, there was an overwhelming plea from participants that next year's event should be 'hybrid', online with an option to attend physically if possible. We will try our best (vaccines permitting) to consider this!

Feedback on watching as a pre-recorded event

If you do end up watching the recorded footage, it would really be incredibly helpful for us to receive your feedback about what you liked and what could be improved. This is in order to help us to continue justifying investing so much time and resources in organising such events. Please let us know what you thought about it, through our feedback page 🎁(your gift to us) or on social media / twitter using the @BL_Labs handle.

Behind the scenes team

The team 'behind the scenes' were:

8th BL Labs Symposium Organising Team8th BL Labs Symposium Organising Team
Top (Left to right) - Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager), Filipe Bento (BL Labs Technical Lead), Robin Saklatvala (Event Manager)
Bottom (left to right) - Maja Maricevic (Head of Higher Education and Science), Ruth Hansford (Endangered Archives Programme Grants Portfolio Manager), Dan van Strien (Digital Curator with Living with Machines), Rossitza Atassanova (Digital Curator, Digitisation)
 
Mahendra Mahey, BL Labs Manager behind the screen
Mahendra Mahey, BL Labs Manager 'behind' the screen during the BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020

I would like to thank them all, especially Filipe and Robin who with me, did the heavy lifting.

[back to menu]

Welcome address from Maja Marcievic

Maja Maricevic, is the Head of Higher Education and Sciences at the British Library and manages me. She welcomed everyone who was attending the symposium and was 'master of ceremonies' for the first block of talks detailing some essential housekeeping duties. She then gave a summary of the direction that BL Labs will be moving into the future and detailed how the BL Labs team have been supporting and shining a light on research, artistic, educational as well as showcasing the incredibly important work which focuses on community activism over the year. Finally, she formally introduced the keynote speaker.

Keynote: Humanists Living with Machines: reflections on collaboration and computational history during a global pandemic

This year's keynote was delivered by Ruth Ahnert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London and Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' project at The Alan Turing Institute.

Ruth spoke passionately and very engagingly about her impressive journey and rise as a literary historian. Ruth's academic work has increasingly involved using computational approaches. She highlighted some of the latest results from the Living With Machines project and included descriptions of some poignant and personal reflections on how the Digital Humanities community have been effected by recent developments such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the push provided by the Black Lives Matter movement for memory organisations to provide greater transparency to their collections. Many of the attendees responded enthusiastically to Ruth's talk and there was a lot of buzz on social media about it. She was even able to answer 5 questions from the audience at the end of her talk.

We are also very excited to announce that Ruth has joined the BL Labs Advisory board and was part of this year's judging panel for our Public Awards 2020. We are delighted that her energy, warmth, humanity and enthusiasm will be helping shape the future of BL Labs moving forward.

You can download her full set of slides as a PDF from here 🎁.

You can follow Ruth on Twitter.

[back to menu]

End Keynote: How to Decolonise the British Library in 3 (Un)Easy Steps

Anasuya Sengupta, Co-Director and co-founder of Whose Knowledge? explored the notions of epistemic injustice and how different structures of power and privilege impact the ways we understand (digital) knowledge and scholarship. In particular, she offered some practices of decolonisation that might move us from metaphor to the ongoing (and never complete) transformation of our organisations and ourselves. Her talk was extremely well received by the audience with very positive comments and feedback such as 'Incredible presentation from Anasuya'. Thank you Anasuya for delivering a very powerful talk.

For me personally, Anasuya's presentation resonated deeply and emotionally. As someone who has a lived experience of racism, prejudice and castetism (as I am of Indian decent) I am very aware of the British Library's / Museum's colonial past and conversely I also try to be aware of my privilege and my awareness that changing things for the better starts with our own individual actions, no matter how small they may be. Her talk reminded me of my own efforts and motivations in trying to address some of these issues when I came to help set up the Lab nearly eight years ago. I saw that BL Labs could help facilitate opening up the Library's collections through digital experimentation. Subsequently, I have wanted it to connect with a new set of diverse audiences that previously would have never even known about the British Library, let alone engage with it. I really want to help people to create new, open, honest transparent narratives and initiate new dialogues about history and tell new inspirational 'time-travel' stories by remixing the past with the present and projecting into an imagined future. This was and still is one of my main motivations to get up in the morning and to continue to manage and lead BL Labs.

One of Anasuya's final slides brilliantly sums up what is needed:

Anasuya Sengupta's call to action
Anasuya Sengupta's call to action

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the British Library's BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) staff group for all their hard work in especially addressing anti-racism at the British Library over many years, which I know can be exhausting and emotionally draining and is often not always visible. I would like to raise awareness that our new head of diversity, appointed in August 2019, Hugh Brown has been looking at implementing actions to combat anti-racism within the Library, largely articulated in a press release this summer about the Library's commitment in becoming an anti-racist organisation.

You can download her full set slides as a PDF from here 🎁.

You can also follow Anasuya on Twitter.

[back to menu]

Updates from BL Labs', Digital Research's and Research Services' Teams at the British Library Library

BL Labs

I gave an update on behalf of the BL Labs Team about our activities and I looked forward to new projects and developments some of which are already underway. There was a call to action for people to seek their inner 'Labber', to experiment, create magic, tell fantastic engaging, moving and meaningful stories and conduct valuable and impactful research with the British Library's and other GLAMs' digital collections and data.

Francis Owtram Tweet
Francis Owtram's Tweet

I gave an overview of some details with statistics of work we have done up to now.  There was a personal reflection of my own struggles through this ongoing pandemic period. One BL Labs project that is close to completion is to provide computational access via browser based Jupyter Notebooks for British Library registered readers for some onsite-only available digital collections and data. Another BL Labs project is about building on and getting more of our data used in Higher Education and in the Sciences, especially Data Science, hopefully you will hear more about this in the new year.

You can download my full set slides as a PDF from here🎁.

You can follow me (Mahendra) on Twitter, the @BL_Labs twitter channel which is getting near to 9,000 followers and @GLAM_labs which represents the global GLAM Labs community. All of which I am proud to say I helped set up and run with colleagues.

[back to menu]

Digital Research Team

Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator, Asian and African Collections, at the British Library, presented some highlights of the incredible range of innovative projects and work being done by her and our colleagues in the Digital Research team at the British Library over the last year, such as:

You can download the full set slides as a PDF from here🎁.

You can also follow Adi on Twitter and members of her team, Rossitza Atassanova, Mia Ridge, Tom Derrick, Stella Wisdom, Nora McGregor, Deirdre Sullivan , Dan van Strien, Olivia Vane, Giorgia Tolfo, Claire Austin, some of whom are managed by Neil Fitzgerald.

[back to menu]

Research Services Update

Rachael Kotarski, Head of Research Infrastructure Services at the British Library, gave some highlights of current projects and services in the Research Services team. Their role is to improve the services the Library offers to researchers and research organisations - onsite and online, BL Labs has been collaborating with them for many years. A particular focus of her team is to make it easier to find and use items from our collections and relevant content globally such as license, acquire and process content, understand our users, what is our content strategy, digital preservation and tools and infrastructure. Highlights from Rachael's presentation include:

You can download the full set slides as a PDF from here 🎁.

You can follow Rachael on Twitter.

[back to menu]

BL Labs Public Awards 2020

The BL Labs Public Awards 2020 winners in Research, Artistic, Educational and Community categories were decided by BL Labs, the BL Labs Advisory Board and some of the British Library's Digital Research team:

From the BL Labs Advisory Board it included:

  • David De Roure, Professor of e-research, Oxford e-research Centre, University of Oxford and Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute
  • Tim Hitchcock, Professor of Digital History, University of Sussex
  • Bill Thompson, Principal Research Engineer, BBC
  • Melissa Terras, Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at the University of Edinburgh‘s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
  • Ruth Ahnert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London and Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' at The Alan Turing Institute (joined in December 2020)
  • Kelly Foster, open knowledge advocate and public historian, London Blue Badge Guide, chapter lead for Creative Commons UK and founding organiser of AfroCROWD UK, an initiative to encourage more people of African heritage to contribute to Wikipedia and it’s sister projects and founding member of TRANSMISSION, a collective of archivists and historians of African descent (joined in December 2020)

Unfortunately, Andrew Prescott, Professor of Digital Humanities (English Language), University of Glasgow was unable to participate due to a clash with a PhD viva. However, he was able to participate on the day as a delegate at the symposium.

On a sad note, our colleague George Oates, Director of Good, Form & Spectacle Ltd has had to step down from the BL Labs Advisory Board after 4 years of excellent service for personal reasons, so we would like to wish George and thank her for all her help over the years.

From the British Library, the judging panel was made up of:

We had a wide range of fantastic and diverse range of entries from around the world this year, all of which can be downloaded as a .zip file. If you are curious about previous years Awards entries, you can also download all our Award entries since its inception🎁. We also strongly recommend you browse the huge BL Labs Digital Projects Archive 🎁where information about this year's entries together with over 300 projects and many BL Labs collaborations, competitions and projects over the nearly last 8 years BL Labs has been involved in or showcased can found. We keep this archive as a historic record to provide evidence of the impact of BL Labs and what it does as well as other initiatives in the Library. The archive could also provide inspiration and insights for you if you are contemplating starting your own projects or collaborations using the Library's and other GLAMs' digital collections and data.

Brief information about which entries were shortlisted this year (2020) can be viewed in just five minutes via a YouTube play list of 10 shortlisted entries for the Public Awards 2020:

BL Labs Public Awards 2020 - Playlist
BL Labs Public Awards 2020 - YouTube playlist of ten 30-second videos

So now onto the BL Labs Awards for 2020 by category.

Research Award

The BL Labs Research Award recognises a project or activity which demonstrates the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools using the Library’s digital collections or data.

The winners were announced by my colleague Naomi Billingsley, Research Development Manager, at the British Library, her slide deck is available to download here 🎁.

Shortlisted

  • Afrobits
    An interactive installation of African music and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade .

    By Javier Pereda (Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration and Researcher in the Experimental Technologies Lab, Liverpool John Moores University), Patricia Murrieta Flores (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Hub at Lancaster University), Nicholas Radburn (Lecturer in the History of the Atlantic World 1500 – 1800, Co-Editor of the Slave Voyages Research Project, Lancaster University), Lois South (History Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University) and Christian Monaghan, Graphic Design and Illustration Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University.


    Links: Short videolonger videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Runner-up

  • Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.

    By AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

The judging panel we were simply 'blown away' by Awate's work.

Winner

  • Asking questions with web archives – introductory notebooks for historians
    16 Jupyter notebooks that demonstrate how specific historical research questions can be explored by analysing data from web archives.

    By Tim Sherratt (Associate Professor of Digital Heritage at the University of Canberra and founder and creator of the GLAM workbench), Andrew Jackson (Technical Lead - UK Web Archive, British Library), Alex Osborne (Technical Lead Australian Web Archive - National Library of Australia),  Ben O’Brien (Technical Lead New Zealand Web Archive - National Library of New Zealand) and Olga Holownia (International Internet Preservation Coalition (IIPC) Programmes & Communications Officer)

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

Congratulations Tim Sherratt, Andrew Jackson; Alex Osborne, Ben O’Brien and Olga Holownia. The panel were impressed with the quality of documentation and thought that went into how to work computationally through Jupyter Notebooks with web archives, which are challenging to work with because of their. These tools are some of the first of their kind for Web Archives.

The BL Labs advisory board wanted to acknowledge and reward the incredible work of Tim Sherratt in particular.

"Tim, you have been a pioneer as ‘a one person Lab’ over many years, and these 16 notebooks are a fine addition to your already extensive suite in your GLAM work-bench. Your work has inspired so many in GLAMs, the Humanities community and BL Labs to develop their own notebooks".

We strongly recommend that you look at the GLAM work-bench if you are interested in doing computational experiments with many institutions’ data sources, we genuinely think Tim's work has been at the forefront of computational hacking work in GLAMs.

Artistic Award

This Award recognises an artistic or creative endeavour that has used the Library’s digital content to inspire, amaze and provoke. This year's Awards were announced for the fourth time by Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning, British Library, his slide deck is available here🎁.

Special commendation

  • Afrobits
    An interactive installation of African music and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade .

    By Javier Pereda (Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration and Researcher in the Experimental Technologies Lab, Liverpool John Moores University), Patricia Murrieta Flores (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Hub at Lancaster University), Nicholas Radburn (Lecturer in the History of the Atlantic World 1500 – 1800, Co-Editor of the Slave Voyages Research Project, Lancaster University), Lois South (History Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University) and Christian Monaghan, Graphic Design and Illustration Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University.


    Links: Short videolonger videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

This is an interactive installation of influence of African music on culture and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. It's a piece that is absolutely vital for our times.

Panel comments

Rosyln's work is a celebration of black heritage through black afro hair developed in the context of doing something positive given negative images of police brutality against black people around the world. She used images of Bantu, Balondo and Akan men and women from British Library’s Flickr Commons collection, using them to make patterns for fabrics and wallpapers, t-shirts and mugs and intend to use the fabrics to make other products. The panel loved how Rosyln created some positive out of the tremendous negativity that has been directed towards black people around the world. The team liked the designs, they were vibrant, fresh and cool.

Runner-up

Panel comments

This entry was very well received by everyone. The panel felt Faint Signals was wonderfully inventive use of the environmental sounds collection, clever imaginative use of Unity 3D technology, perfect impact over the COVID period. It's a piece that draws you in, that is relaxing and rather beguiling and certainly in these challenging times when travelling is impossible, and perhaps travelling into nature is difficult, this gives you a sense of the glories and the vastness of the sounds of nature.

Winner

  • Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.

    By AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

The panel were incredibly moved by the performance of Awate. They were impressed by the quality of story telling and research needed to stitch together such powerful archive footage such as Grace Nichols’ poem ‘I have crossed an ocean’ (see below):

A reading's of Grace's work is available to listen to onsite at the British Library, together with other recordings of extraordinary people.

Congratulations to Awate, for creating this captivating performance, and I think, gave all of us who experienced it, goose bumps! We strongly urge you to please listen to his work, it’s very moving and inspiring.

Learning and Teaching (Educational) Award

This Award celebrates quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content. This year's awards were announced for the third time by Ria Bartlett, Lead Producer: Onsite Learning at the British Library, her slide deck is available here.

Special Commendation

Panel comments

The panel were particularly impressed by the quality of the tool produced by a student in their own time and his generosity and kindness to share the tool for the benefit of all. Also, this is the first time an Endangered Archives Programme's (EAP) digitised collections have been recognised with a BL Labs award. We hope many more projects will be submitted in the future that use EAP’s incredible range of digital collections.

  • Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.

    by AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

We were particularly impressed how Awate worked with young people to unpack his journey of research in the British Library to make his piece, teaching at The Roundhouse in Camden and Fairbeats in Lewisham and recording voices from children from London to be included in some of his pieces, which was a geat honour for them. We particularly liked the narrative you created. The story takes place on a generation ship, during the one day a year a group of children are awake for a lesson taught to them by an artificial intelligence tutor. The tutor uses an algorithm to sample from the British Library archive from the years 1896-2019 in order to tell them stories of human migration using clips from Oral History recordings. As they are travelling to a different planet, the AI places them in the greater context of migration, exploring themes such as war, corruption, famine and drought.

Well done Awate! We urge you all to listen to his ‘The Unearthed Odyssey’ performance, it’s brilliant.

Runner-up

  • Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections: a GLAM Notebooks approach
    Enabling cultural heritage institutions and (digital) humanities researchers to experiment with Collections as Data and GLAM notebooks by showcasing practical implementations from a wide range of GLAM institutions and digital collections. 

    By Gustavo CandelaPilar EscobarMaría Dolores Sáez and Manuel Marco-Such  from the Research Libraries Team, Department of Software and Computing Systems, the University of Alicante, Spain

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

We were impressed that the notebooks the team have developed are being used in the team's own teaching on university courses. We also liked how the team have very generously created Jupyter Notebooks for other GLAMs' data, where many do not have the capacity to do so. That’s 15 notebooks for 12 GLAMs.

Winner

  • Beyond the Rubric: Collaborating with the Cultural Heritage Sector in Higher Education Teaching and Research
    A project-based, research-led collaboration between the British Library and students of the Centre for Digital Humanities Research at the Australian National University.

    By Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

Well done Terhi and especially her students who produced such outstanding work in only 12 weeks through their group projects. The panel felt this was an exemplary use of the British Library’s digital collections and data in a Digital Scholarship context and an excellent template for further collaboration with BL Labs and other GLAM Labs working with educational institutions especially in area of Digital Humanities. We were particularly impressed with Terhi’s grading criteria that recognised ambition in projects and Terhi’s decision to have interdisciplinary, gender-balanced, multi-lingual project groups.

Community

This Award celebrates an activity / work / project that has been created by an individual or group in a community inspired by or using our digital collections and data. This year's awards were announced for first time by Liz White, Head of Public Libraries and Community Engagement, her slide deck is available here.

Special Commendation

  • Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections: a GLAM Notebooks approach
    Enabling cultural heritage institutions and (digital) humanities researchers to experiment with Collections as Data and GLAM notebooks by showcasing practical implementations from a wide range of GLAM institutions and digital collections. 

    By Gustavo CandelaPilar EscobarMaría Dolores Sáez and Manuel Marco-Such  from the Research Libraries Team, Department of Software and Computing Systems, the University of Alicante, Spain

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

This entry was in fact the most nominated across 3 of the 4 BL Labs public Awards categories. The panel particularly loved the generosity of the group in developing computational access to 12 Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum’s (GLAMs) data through 15 Jupyter Notebooks, including the British Library. Many of these institutions do not have the capacity or expertise to do this, so this was some really kind and fantastic work moving these organisations forward computationally. A great contribution to the GLAM Labs community, initiated of course by Mahendra at BL Labs. Find out more about GLAM Labs at glamlabs.io.

Special Commendation

  • Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.

    By AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

Panel comments

We were particularly impressed how Awate worked with British Library staff before and during lockdown, with school children from South London to unpack his journey of research in the British Library to make his piece. He also taught at the Roundhouse in Camden and Fairbeats in Lewisham and recorded voices from local children to be included in some of his pieces, a great honour for them.  Well done Awate, great work!

Winner

  • Flickr Georeferencing completed by volunteers
    Volunteer georeferencers have added coordinates to all the images of over 50,000 maps from the British Library's Flickr Commons site.

    By 'Volunteer geo-referencers' nominated by Gethen Rees, Digital Mapping Curator, British Library


    Links: Short videoFull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

Volunteer Geo-referencers with over 50,00 Maps geo-referenced was nominated on behalf of the volunteers by Gethen Rees, Digital Mapping Curator. It took them nearly 6 years to geo-reference over 50,000 maps, incredible and epic work that deserves a tremendous amount of recognition. Previously James Heald (2105) and Maurice Nicholson (2016)  from the volunteer mapping community have been recognised for their excellent work.

BL Labs will be donating the prize money to a Humanitarian Mapping charity.

  • In the Spotlight volunteers
    Since 2017, thousands of volunteers have helped bring the British Library's historic playbills collection to life through the In the Spotlight crowdsourcing project.

    By 'In the Spotlight volunteers' nominated by Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, Western Heritage Collections, British Library


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

Panel comments

In the Spotlight volunteers was nominated by Mia Ridge, digital curator at the British Library on behalf of thousands of volunteers adding information to digitised historic playbills of plays and performances, with nearly a quarter of a million tasks”.

BL Labs will be donating the prize money to a charity that supports out-of-work actors who have especially been effected by the pandemic.

[back to menu]

BL Labs People's Choice Public Award 2020

Between 1100 (GMT) Monday 14 December 2020 to 1615 ( GMT) Tuesday 15 December 2020 an international public vote took place using Menti to decide on the overall favourite entry of all the shortlisted entrants to the BL Labs Public Awards 2020.

The results were as follows:

BL Labs People's Favourite Public Award 2020
BL Labs People's Favourite Public Award 2020 Results of Public Vote (1230 votes cast) Numbers on image correspond to the those in the table below:
Number Name of entry

Number of Public Votes

Ranking
1 Asking questions with web archives – introductory notebooks for historians 56 4
2 Mapping the Reparto de Tierras in Michoacán, Mexico (1868 - 1929) 37 5
3 Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections:
a GLAM Notebooks approach
582 1
4 Afrobits 312 2
5 Faint Signals 18 8
6 Afro Hair and its Heritage 153 3
7 In the Spotlight volunteers 32 6
8 Flickr Geo-referencing Volunteers 4 10
8 Beyond the Rubric 32 6
10 Unlocking our Sound Heritage: The Unearthed Odessey - AWATE 14 9
  Total number of votes cast 1230  

The overall ranked list (by number of votes) was:

Rank Name of BL Labs Public Awards 2020 Entry
1 Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections: a GLAM Notebooks approach
2 Afrobits
3 Afro Hair and its Heritage
4 Asking questions with web archives – introductory notebooks for historians
5 Mapping the Reparto de Tierras in Michoacán, Mexico (1868 - 1929)
6 In the Spotlight volunteers
6 Beyond the Rubric
8 Faint Signals
9 Unlocking our Sound Heritage: The Unearthed Odyssey - AWATE
10 Flickr Geo-referencing Volunteers

CONGRATULATIONS TO...

They are the FIRST WINNERS of the BL Labs People's Choice Public Award 2020!

[back to menu]

BL Labs Staff Awards 2020

The BL Labs Staff Awards were established in 2016 to highlight the exceptional work British Library staff have done with its data and / or digital collections and technology.

The 2020 British Library Labs Staff Award, now in its fifth year, gives recognition to current British Library staff who have created something brilliant using the Library's data and / or digital collections to answer and address the following questions and statements:

  • Perhaps you know of a project that developed new forms of knowledge, or an activity that delivered commercial value to the library.
  • Did the person or team create an artistic work that inspired, stimulated, amazed and provoked?
  • Do you know of a project developed by the Library where quality learning experiences were generated using the Library's digital content?
  • Have you worked on a project that used the Library's digital collections in the local community?

A panel comprised of the BL Labs Team and other British Library staff:

We received 13 entries, the most we have ever received for the Staff Awards and they are listed below:

  1. British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership watermarks project
    Digitally capturing watermarks from old manuscripts and books.

    Nominated by Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL Qatar Project) on behalf of Heather Murphy (Conservation Team Leader, BL Qatar Project), Camillie Dekeyser-Thuet (Conservator Gulf History and Arabic Science, BL Qatar Project), Matt Lee (Senior Imaging Support Technician, BL Qatar Project) and Jordi Clopes-Masjuan (Senior Imaging Technician, BL Qatar Project).


    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  2. British Library Simulator on Bitsy
    The British Library simulator allows you to walk around the public spaces of the Library, visit a Reading Room, and see the basement (almost).

    Nominated by Ian Cooke (Head of Contemporary British Published Collections) on behalf of Giulia Carla Rossi (Curator, Digital Publications)


    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details, bitsy available here and the simulator is available here.

  3. Making Data into Sound
    Inspired by an article about sonification on the programming historian website, Anne Courtney enabled a new way of experiencing catalogue records through sound.

    Nominated by Laura Parsons (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL Qatar Project) on behalf of Anne Courtney (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details 

  4. Leeds Exhibition Staff Doing Digital events and projects
    In response to the pandemic British Library exhibition staff had to deliver a range of activities online, some of which were originally conceived as physical events. They also worked on commercial project commissions such as Faint Signals.

    Nominated by Elvie Thompson (Lead Learning Producer, BL North - Leeds) and Conrad Bodman (Head of Culture Programmes, BL Culture and Learning) on behalf of Kenn Taylor (Lead Culture Producer, BL North - Leeds).

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  5. How to make art when we're working apart
    A guide developed during lock-down to enable people to create collages using the British Library's Flickr Commons collection.

    By Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  6. A title-level list of British, Irish, British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies newspapers held by the BL
    Though the library has functions for searching the print newspaper collection, metadata was created for the newspaper titles for those who would like to get an overview of the collection or use it for statistical analysis. The data is being used by the designer of a 'history of newspapers' infographic, for the upcoming infographics exhibition to be held next year at the Library and a number of visualisations. 

    Nominated by Yann Ryan (Digital Newspaper Curator) on behalf of himself, Luke McKernan (Lead Curator News & Moving Image Collections), Stephen Lester (Curator Newspaper Collections) and Alan Danskin (Collection Metadata Standards Manager)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details, dataset, and press picker developed by Living with Machines is based on this work.

  7. Extracting text from Maps
    The creation and release of a dataset containing the text extracted from almost 2,000 colonial-era maps and documents, using the Google Vision API, which was enabled during the completion of a pilot course in Computing for Cultural Heritage at Birkbeck University.

    Nominated by Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator, Asian and African Collections, the British Library on behalf of Nick Dykes (Curator for Modern Maps Collections)

    Links: Longer video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details, online map, spreadsheet, included in a paper delivered at the Royal Anthropological Institute Conference 14 - 18 September 2020, ‘Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future’ – ‘From conservation to computer vision - curating the ‘War Office Archive’ of colonial-era maps held at the British Library’

  8. The Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) Artist-in-Residence at the British Library
    Staff supporting Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content bAWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England).

    Nominated by Sue Davies on behalf of Chandan Mahal (Learning Projects Manager), Andrea Zarza (Curator World & Traditional Music Collections) and Amanda House (Lead Intellectual Property Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage).

    Links: Short videofull BL Labs awards' entry and further details

  9. Languid: Language Identification Project
    The addition of the language codes to 3,196,285 catalogue records using a combination of machine learning and human methods to enhance the records of items from the British Museum collection covering the period from the beginning of printing to the 1970s.

    Nominated by Alan Danskin (Collection Metadata Standards Manager) on behalf of Victoria Morris (Online Metadata Analyst, BL Collection Metadata)

    Links: Short video, longer video, full BL Labs awards' entry and Morris, Victoria  Automated Language Identification of Bibliographic Resources: Cataloging & Classification Quarterly: Vol 58, No 1 (tandfonline.com) , also available on the British Library's institutional repository

  10. Improving the cataloguing process and quality of EAP metadata through Open Refine and writing own software
    Work that enhances the catalogue process for the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) digital archive, to improve the quality of the metadata and to make the cataloguing process more efficient.

    By Graham Jevon (Endangered Archives Programme Cataloguer, BL Endangered Archives Programme)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details, GitHub and a second blog post

  11. Hidden world of Qatar National Library - Bitsy simulator
    Game developed using BITSY, based on the Qatar National Library in Doha. Users in the gamey have to undertake tasks such as to find a manuscript in the basement and an astrolabe with other aspects of game play to create a more immersive experience which has more intimate ties to, and features many more objects and items in the collection of the Library.

    Nominated by Ellis Meade (Senior Imaging Technician, BL Qatar Project) on behalf himself, Serim Abboushi (Arabic & English Web Content Editor, BL Qatar Project), Heather Murphy (Conservation Team Leader, BL Qatar Project), Naomi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project) and Julia Ihnatowicz (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  12. Addressing Problematic Terms in our Catalogues
    Started by colleagues on the Qatar Foundation Partnership Project, the idea was inspired by a talk by Melissa Bennett about decolonising archives and how terms used in catalogue records can be problematic. This project has analysed the terms used in cataloguing including those used when translating our catalogue records into Arabic so that they can be added to our bilingual Qatar Digital Library.

    Nominated by Laura Parsons (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL Qatar Project)  and Francisca Fuentes Rettig (Curator North American Publication Collections, British Library American) on behalf of British Library Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) network. The team are: Serim Abboushi (Arabic & English Web Content Editor, BL Qatar Project), Mariam Aboelezz (Translation Support Officer, BL Qatar Project), Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager, BL Qatar Project), Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL Qatar Project) , John Casey (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), David Fitzpatrick (Content Specialist Archivist, BL Qatar Project), Susannah Gillard (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project), John Hayhurst (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Julia Ihnatowicz (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project), William Monk (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician, BL Qatar Project), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project), Francis Owtram (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Curstaidh Reid (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), George Samaan (Translation Support Officer, BL Qatar Project), Tahani Shaban (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project), David Woodbridge (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project) and Nariman Youssef (Arabic Translation Manager, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Short video and full BL Labs awards' entry.

  13. COVID-19 materials supplied by British Library
    From the start of the pandemic and during lockdown, teams have worked hard to provide key materials for Covid-19 from the British Library On Demand collection to researches working on treatments, preventative measures and vaccines for the virus. Visit www.bl.uk/on-demand

    Nominated by Peter Chymera on behalf of Customer Services, Document Supply Managers and Retrieval Staff at the British Library

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

 

The winners were announced by my colleague Jas Rai, Head of People, British Library, her slide deck is available here.

Special Commendation

  • Improving the cataloguing process and quality of EAP metadata through Open Refine and writing own software
    Work that enhances the catalogue process for the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) digital archive, to improve the quality of the metadata and to make the cataloguing process more efficient.

    By Graham Jevon (Endangered Archives Programme Cataloguer, BL Endangered Archives Programme)

    Links: Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details, github and a second blog post

Panel comments

We received a number of entries which describe journeys of staff learning more about technology and then using what they learned to enable innovation in their work. We would like to give a special commendation to Nick and Graham, two members of staff who the panel felt were worthy exemplars of this.

Runners-up

Panel comments

Anne Courtney, Cataloguer of Gulf History at the British Library’s Qatar Project created a musical piece from the India Office records catalogue records. She did this by using the place names to connect with different instruments, dates in records connected to timing of the music and the how the data is related effected the interaction with the instruments.

The panel were really impressed with this very thoughtful and innovative way of discovering our collections, it was almost like leaving an acoustic memory of the people’s that these records are about.

Panel comments

Victoria Morris is an online metadata analyst in the British Library’s collection metadata team. She did some pioneering computational work using machine learning to detect missing information about the language of catalogue records.

The panel were really impressed with the innovation and the incredible impact of the work, identifying 471 languages in the records, 141 of which were not previously represented, with the addition of language codes to 3,196,285 records.

Winners

Panel comments

The simulator was created by Giulia in May 2020 using ‘Bitsy'. It has been viewed more than 5,000 times (with most use during the period when the Library was closed to the public). It has attracted press attention in the UK and in Europe. Subsequent attention has come from another national library in Europe, and also a student and librarian in the US, who is preparing a Fulbright application to study interactive storytelling and games in the UK.

Giulia followed up the Simulator by leading a 'Hack n Yack' session organised by the Digital Scholarship team on Bitsy for Library colleagues. A BL colleague has produced a similar simulator for the Qatar Digital Library inspired by Giulia's work.

This was a unanimous favourite with the judging panel. Thank you Giulia for such a fun project.

  • Addressing Problematic Terms in our Catalogues
    Started by colleagues on the Qatar Foundation Partnership Project the idea to start the work that was inspired by a talk by Melissa Bennett about decolonising the archive and how terms used in catalogue records can be problematic. This project has analysed the terms used in cataloguing including the terms used when translating our catalogue records into Arabic so that they can be added to our bilingual Qatar Digital Library.

    Nominated by Laura Parsons (Digitisation Workflow Administrator, BL Qatar Project)  and Francisca Fuentes Rettig (Curator North American Publication Collections, British Library American) on behalf of British Library Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) network. Names are: Serim Abboushi (Arabic & English Web Content Editor, BL Qatar Project), Mariam Aboelezz (Translation Support Officer, BL Qatar Project), Louis Allday (Gulf History Cataloguing Manager, BL Qatar Project), Sotirios Alpanis (Head of Digital Operations, BL Qatar Project) , John Casey (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), David Fitzpatrick (Content Specialist Archivist, BL Qatar Project), Susannah Gillard (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project), John Hayhurst (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Julia Ihnatowicz (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project), William Monk (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Hannah Nagle (Senior Imaging Support Technician, BL Qatar Project), Noemi Ortega-Raventos (Content Specialist, Archivist, BL Qatar Project), Francis Owtram (Content Specialist, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), Curstaidh Reid (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project), George Samaan (Translation Support Officer, BL Qatar Project), Tahani Shaban (Translation Specialist, BL Qatar Project), David Woodbridge (Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL Qatar Project) and Nariman Youssef (Arabic Translation Manager, BL Qatar Project)

    Links: Short video and full BL Labs awards' entry.

Panel comments

The second winner is from the British Library’s Qatar Foundation team. Congratulations go to: Serim Abboushi, Mariam Aboelezz, Louis Allday, Sotirios Alpanis, John Casey, David Fitzpatrick, Susannah Gillard, John Hayhurst, Julia Ihnatowicz, William Monk, Hannah Nagle, Noemi Ortega-Raventos, Francis Owtram, Curstaidh Reid, George Samaan, Tahani Shaban, David Woodbridge and Nariman Youssef  and special thanks to the BAME Staff Network.

This is incredibly important work as it is something that continues to require attention. Perhaps it’s fair to say it is now getting even more focus because of world events such as ‘Black Lives Matter’.

Congratulations to everyone, we know this work isn’t easy but it is MOST definitely needed!

[back to menu]

Binge-watch BL Labs 'box-sets' (YouTube Playlists)

This seasonal time in the UK often involves may of us binge watching online box sets online or on TV. If this is you, and you really want to learn more about the world of GLAM Labs, digital scholarship and the creative potential of working with our and other's digital collections and data we have organised and prepared footage from previous years' events. There are some fantastic, thought provoking and incredibly wise keynote speeches, some excellent presentations which highlight projects that are still relevant and inspiring for all of us today. You can even watch the launch of the BL Labs project almost eight years ago. 

BL_Labs_Symposium_2019Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2019
BL_Labs_Symposium_2018Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2018
BL_Labs_Symposium_2017Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2017
BL_Labs_Symposium_2016Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2016
BL_Labs_Symposium_2015Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2015
BL Labs Symposium 2014 YouTube Playlist
Symposium
YouTube

Playlist 2014
BL_Labs_LaunchEvent2013BL Labs Launch
YouTube

Playlist 2013
Buildinglibrarylabs.jpegBuilding Library Labs
YouTube
Playlist 2018
Text-dataminingText& Data Mining
YouTube
Playlist 2015
CuriousimagesCurious Images
YouTube
Playlist 2014
[back to menu]

Conclusion and Season's Greetings

Winter_sceneBritish Library digitised image from page 161 of "Poetry of the year. Passages from the poets descriptive of the seasons. With twenty-two coloured illustrations from drawings by eminent artists [Edited by Joseph Cundall.]
Taken from the British Library's Flickr Commons collection.

That's a wrap from the BL Labs team for 2020, what a challenging year it has been!

We hope you find something in this post of interest that inspires you to start or continue your journey in using the British Library's (as well as other GLAM Labs and organisations) digital collections and data for an innovative project.

Looking back at nearly 8 years of working at BL Labs I am really proud of what we have achieved, let's hope 2021 will be a great year.

Seasons greetings and a Happy New Year to all, please stay safe and have a lovely and relaxing festive period with friends and family involved if possible.

Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

[back to menu]

14 December 2020

Shortlist and voting for BL Labs People's Choice: Public Awards 2020 announced! Last chance: Book BL Labs Symposium!

Add comment

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

British Library Labs Shortlisted Entries for the Public Awards 2020
Screenshots from the 10 BL Labs shortlisted entries for the Public Awards 2020

After much deliberation and intense discussion with key people from the BL Labs Advisory board and British Library we have come up with a fantastic shortlist for the BL Labs Public Awards 2020.

The official announcement of who has been awarded prizes for the Awards in each category (Research, Artistic, Educational and Community) will take place tomorrow between 1400-1700 (GMT), Tuesday 15 December 2020 at the online BL Labs Symposium 2020. We will also announce our Staff Awards there too.

There are still a few places available - so hurry and BOOK NOW to find out if the project you voted for won! Also, learn more about some of the amazing projects that were submitted this year and listen and be inspired by our fantastic range of speakers in our packed programme.

In this strange, difficult and remarkable pandemic year, we decided to do something really special.

We we want you, the public, to choose which shortlisted entry will be crowned overall the 'BL Labs People's Choice for the Public Awards 2020'. It's going to be difficult as the projects this year are so diverse and difficult to compare. Also, you only have today and tomorrow to decide (voting will close around 1615 GMT tomorrow, Tuesday 15 December 2020).

The winner will be announced near the end of the BL Labs Symposium 2020 tomorrow, Tuesday 15 December 2020, just before 1700 GMT.

How to vote for the BL Labs People's Choice for the Public Awards 2020?

It's really simple:

  1. Read the descriptions below and follow the links to learn more about each entry.
  2. Vote for your favourite (you can only chose one!) using our VOTING FORM which is now live.
  3. You will be asked if you wish to have the results emailed to you after you have voted. If you choose this option, all you will be able to see are the number of people who have voted.
  4. The form will remain open from 1100 GMT Monday 14 December to 1615 GMT Tuesday 15 December 2020 (that's just over 30 hours).
  5. The winner will be announced around 1655 GMT tomorrow on 15 December 2020 near the end this year's online BL Labs Symposium 2020.

Only have 5 minutes to look through the entries and vote?

No problem! We have created a BL Labs Public Awards YouTube shortlist 2020 which contains ten 30-second promotional videos for each shortlisted entry to give you their 'essence'. It's just over 5 minutes and then you can VOTE!

You can also ownload a .zip file with all the submissions for this year's BL Labs Public Awards 2020 (all entries) if you prefer.

The shortlisted entries for the BL Labs Public Awards 2020 this year are (in alphabetical title order):

  1. Afrobits
    An interactive installation of African music and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade .
    by Javier Pereda (Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration and Researcher in the Experimental Technologies Lab, Liverpool John Moores University), Patricia Murrieta Flores (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Hub at Lancaster University), Nicholas Radburn (Lecturer in the History of the Atlantic World 1500 – 1800, Co-Editor of the Slave Voyages Research Project, Lancaster University), Lois South (History Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University) and Christian Monaghan, Graphic Design and Illustration Graduate, Liverpool John Moores University.

    Links: Short video, longer video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  2. Afro Hair And Its Heritage
    A celebration of Black Heritage through Black Afro Hair.
    by Roslyn Henry (self-taught surface pattern designer, from Les Belles Bêtes, France)

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details(1) and (2)

  3. Asking questions with web archives – introductory notebooks for historians
    16 Jupyter notebooks that demonstrate how specific historical research questions can be explored by analysing data from web archives.
    by Tim Sherratt (Associate Professor of Digital Heritage at the University of Canberra and founder and creator of the GLAM workbench), Andrew Jackson (Technical Lead - UK Web Archive, British Library), Alex Osborne (Technical Lead Australian Web Archive - National Library of Australia) and Ben O’Brien (Technical Lead New Zealand Web Archive - National Library of New Zealand)

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  4. Beyond the Rubric: Collaborating with the Cultural Heritage Sector in Higher Education Teaching and Research
    A project-based, research-led collaboration between the British Library and students of the Centre for Digital Humanities Research at the Australian National University.
    by Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details

  5. Faint Signals
    Interactive artwork that generates an imagined Yorkshire forest, densely populated with sounds of nature from the British Library's archive.
    by the Invisible Flock team who are Ben Eaton (Technical Director), Victoria Pratt (Creative Director),  Klavs Kurpnieks (Studio Manager), Catherine Baxendale (Executive Producer), Amy Balderston (General Manager) and Simon Fletcher (Interactions Engineer).

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  6. Flickr Georeferencing completed
    Volunteer georeferencers have added coordinates to all the images of over 50,000 maps from the British Library's Flickr Commons site.
    by 'Volunteer geo-referencers' nominated by Gethen Rees, Digital Mapping Curator, British Library

    Links: Short video, Full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  7. Inspiring computationally-driven research with the BL’s collections: a GLAM Notebooks approach
    Enabling cultural heritage institutions and (digital) humanities researchers to experiment with Collections as Data and GLAM notebooks by showcasing practical implementations from a wide range of GLAM institutions and digital collections. 
    by Gustavo Candela, Pilar Escobar, María Dolores Sáez and Manuel Marco-Such  from the Research Libraries Team, Department of Software and Computing Systems, the University of Alicante, Spain

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  8. In the Spotlight volunteers
    Since 2017, thousands of volunteers have helped bring the British Library's historic playbills collection to life through the In the Spotlight crowdsourcing project.
    by 'In the Spotlight volunteers' nominated by Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, Western Heritage Collections, British Library

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  9. Mapping the Reparto de Tierras in Michoacán, Mexico (1868 - 1929)
    Research in 19th-century Mexican sources and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-based approaches underpinning the creation of an interactive web map that enables users to spatially explore the British Library's recently digitized Libros de Hijuelas collection.
    by John Erard (Undergraduate researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, USA).

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details.

  10. Unlocking our Sound Heritage - Artist in Residence 2019-2020: The Unearthed Odyssey
    Research project culminating in two performances, a genre-bending conceptual Afrofuturist album using 19 samples from the Sound Archive, three comprehensive blogs and work with three youth groups to unpack the themes and content.
    by AWATE (Awate Suleiman - rapper and multimedia artist, England)

    Links: Short video, full BL Labs awards' entry and further details

What happens to the projects not shortlisted?

Though we have criteria to decide which projects should be shortlisted it was still incredibly difficult to choose which ones should be. Judging can be so subjective! Remember it's a point in time with a specific group of people in a particular mood and set of lenses. At a different time, with another group of people I am sure they would probably come up with another selection.

So if you were not chosen this year, please do not be disheartened. The whole point of the BL Labs Awards is to shine a light and showcase uses of our digital collections through innovative projects and activities. These projects have often gone on to be developed further such as someone happened to have come across it and connected with individuals involved and ended up collaborating with them. Many projects have also inspired others to develop their own using the British Library's as well as other institution's cultural heritage digitised and born digital collections.

Details of all the projects entered this year are contained in the BL Labs Digital Projects Archive.

BL Labs can promote your work through our various communication channels (if we haven't already!). Who knows where that might lead? For some of these entrants, I would definitely recommend that they re-submit next year when the projects have been developed further and have had a chance to have further impact.

So for now, a quick thank you to the following people who took the time enter (we have also provided links for those who would like to read further about these entries), we really, really appreciate it:

  1. Drawings inspired by the British Library's Sound Archive of Wildlife Recordings by Viv Youell (England)
  2. Curatr: A Data Interface for the British Library Nineteenth Century Corpus by University College Dublin's Insight team and Centre for Cultural Analytics, Ireland
  3. Reconstructing Early Circus: Entertainments at Astley’s Amphitheatre, 1768-1833 by Leith Davis, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada
  4. Surfacing the impact of doctoral research: working with the EThOS collection by Catherine Montgomery, Craig Stewart, Tom Roberts, Sharon Riddle and Jinjie Huang from Durham University, England
  5. Baking in Better Catalogue Data by Sara Wingate Gray, University College London, England
  6. The Samtla (Search And Mining Tools for Labelling Archives) holographic search and browsing interface for cultural heritage photogrammetry models by Martyn Harris (Birkbeck) and Mark Levene (University College London), England
  7. Visualizing Space by Tara McDarby, United Kingdom
  8. The Interpreter and You Are Not An Island by Noriko Okaku, England (2 entries)
  9. Librorum: the British Library Edition by Janet Luk (Australian National University (ANU), Man-Ting Hsu (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (Canberra, Australia), Billy Nam Cheng (ANU), Jingyi Lai (Haiwan Middle School (Shenzhen, China), Mengfei Liu (Access Canberra (Canberra, Australia) and Xiaohan Jiang (China Maritime Museum (Shanghai, China))
  10. BL Illuminated Glyphs CAPS: Typographic System of Illuminated Manuscript Letterings by Michelle Devlin , England

I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow at the BL Labs Awards Symposium 2020 and seasons greetings to you all, Mahendra.

11 November 2020

BL Labs Online Symposium 2020 : Book your place for Tuesday 15-Dec-2020

Add comment

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs

The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the eighth annual British Library Labs Symposium 2020 will be held on Tuesday 15 December 2020, from 13:45 - 16:55* (see note below) online. The event is FREE, but you must book a ticket in advance to reserve your place. Last year's event was the largest we have ever held, so please don't miss out and book early, see more information here!

*Please note, that directly after the Symposium, we are organising an experimental online mingling networking session between 16:55 and 17:30!

The British Library Labs (BL Labs) Symposium is an annual event and awards ceremony showcasing innovative projects that use the British Library's digital collections and data. It provides a platform for highlighting and discussing the use of the Library’s digital collections for research, inspiration and enjoyment. The awards this year will recognise outstanding use of British Library's digital content in the categories of Research, Artistic, Educational, Community and British Library staff contributions.

This is our eighth annual symposium and you can see previous Symposia videos from 201920182017201620152014 and our launch event in 2013.

Dr Ruth Anhert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' at The Alan Turing Institute
Ruth Ahnert will be giving the BL Labs Symposium 2020 keynote this year.

We are very proud to announce that this year's keynote will be delivered by Ruth Ahnert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London, and Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' at The Alan Turing Institute.

Her work focuses on Tudor culture, book history, and digital humanities. She is author of The Rise of Prison Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2013), editor of Re-forming the Psalms in Tudor England, as a special issue of Renaissance Studies (2015), and co-author of two further books: The Network Turn: Changing Perspectives in the Humanities (Cambridge University Press, 2020) and Tudor Networks of Power (forthcoming with Oxford University Press). Recent collaborative work has taken place through AHRC-funded projects ‘Living with Machines’ and 'Networking the Archives: Assembling and analysing a meta-archive of correspondence, 1509-1714’. With Elaine Treharne she is series editor of the Stanford University Press’s Text Technologies series.

Ruth's keynote is entitled: Humanists Living with Machines: reflections on collaboration and computational history during a global pandemic

You can follow Ruth on Twitter.

There will be Awards announcements throughout the event for Research, Artistic, Community, Teaching & Learning and Staff Categories and this year we are going to get the audience to vote for their favourite project in those that were shortlisted, a people's BL Labs Award!

There will be a final talk near the end of the conference and we will announce the speaker for that session very soon.

So don't forget to book your place for the Symposium today as we predict it will be another full house again, the first one online and we don't want you to miss out, see more detailed information here

We look forward to seeing new faces and meeting old friends again!

For any further information, please contact labs@bl.uk

19 October 2020

The 2020 British Library Labs Staff Award - Nominations Open!

Add comment

Looking for entries now!

A set of 4 light bulbs presented next to each other, the third light bulb is switched on. The image is supposed to a metaphor to represent an 'idea'
Nominate an existing British Library staff member or a team that has done something exciting, innovative and cool with the British Library’s digital collections or data.

The 2020 British Library Labs Staff Award, now in its fifth year, gives recognition to current British Library staff who have created something brilliant using the Library’s digital collections or data.

Perhaps you know of a project that developed new forms of knowledge, or an activity that delivered commercial value to the library. Did the person or team create an artistic work that inspired, stimulated, amazed and provoked? Do you know of a project developed by the Library where quality learning experiences were generated using the Library’s digital content? 

You may nominate a current member of British Library staff, a team, or yourself (if you are a member of staff), for the Staff Award using this form.

The deadline for submission is NOON (GMT), Monday 30 November 2020.

Nominees will be highlighted on Tuesday 15 December 2020 at the online British Library Labs Annual Symposium where some (winners and runners-up) will also be asked to talk about their projects (everyone is welcome to attend, you just need to register).

You can see the projects submitted by members of staff and public for the awards in our online archive.

In 2019, last year's winner focused on the brilliant work of the Imaging Team for the 'Qatar Foundation Partnership Project Hack Days', which were sessions organised for the team to experiment with the Library's digital collections. 

The runner-up for the BL Labs Staff Award in 2019 was the Heritage Made Digital team and their social media campaign to promote the British Library's digital collections one language a week from letters 'A' to 'U' #AToUnknown).

In the public Awards, last year's winners (2019) drew attention to artisticresearchteaching & learning, and community activities that used our data and / or digital collections.

British Library Labs is a project within the Digital Scholarship department at the British Library that supports and inspires the use of the Library's digital collections and data in exciting and innovative ways. It was previously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is now solely funded by the British Library.

If you have any questions, please contact us at labs@bl.uk.

25 September 2020

Making Data Into Sound

Add comment

This is a guest post by Anne Courtney, Gulf History Cataloguer with the Qatar Digital Library, https://www.qdl.qa/en 

Sonification

Over the summer, I’ve been investigating the sonification of data. On the Qatar Project (QDL), we generate a large amount of data, and I wanted to experiment with different methods of representing it. Sonification was a new technique for me, which I learnt about through this article: https://programminghistorian.org/en/lessons/sonification.

 

What is sonification?

Sonification is the method of representing data in an aural format, rather than visual format, such as a graph. It is particularly useful for showing changes in data over time. Different trends are highlighted depending on the choices made during the process, in the same way as they would be when drawing a graph.

 

How does it work?

First, all the data must be put in the right format:

An example of data in Excel showing listed longitude points of
Figure 1: Excel data of longitude points where the Palsgrave anchored

Then, the data is used to generate a midi file. The Programming Historian provides an example python script for this, and by changing parts of it, it is possible to change the tempo, note length, scale, and other features.

Python script ready to output a midi file of occurrences of Anjouan over time
Figure 2: Python script ready to output a midi file of occurrences of Anjouan over time

Finally, to overlay the different midi files, edit them, and change the instruments, I used MuseScore, freely-downloadable music notation software. Other alternatives include LMMS and Garageband:

A music score with name labels of where the Discovery, Palsgrave, and Mary anchored on their journeys, showing different pitches and musical notations.
Figure 3: The score of the voyages of the Discovery, Palsgrave, and Mary, labelled to show the different places where they anchored.

 

The sound of authorities

Each item which the Qatar project catalogues has authority terms linked to it, which list the main subjects and places connected to the item. As each item is dated, it is possible to trace trends in subjects and places over time by assigning the dates of the items to the authority terms. Each authority term ends up with a list of dates when it was mentioned. By assigning different instruments to the different authorities, it is possible to hear how they are connected to each other.

This sound file contains the sounds of places connected with the trade in enslaved people, and how they intersect with the authority term ‘slave trade’. The file begins in 1700 and finishes in 1900. One of the advantages of sonification is that the silence is as eloquent as the data. The authority terms are mentioned more at the end of the time period than the start, and so the piece becomes noisier as the British increasingly concern themselves with these areas. The pitch of the instruments is determined, in this instance, by the months of the records in which they are mentioned.

Authorities

The authority terms are represented by these instruments:

Anjouan: piccolo

Madagascar: cello

Zanzibar: horn

Mauritius: piano

Slave Trade: tubular bell

 

Listening for ships

Ships

This piece follows the journeys of three ships from March 1633 to January 1637. In this example, the pitch is important because it represents longitude; the further east the ships travel, the higher the pitch. The Discovery and the Palsgrave mostly travelled together from Gravesend to India, and they both made frequent trips between the Gulf and India. The Mary set out from England in April 1636 to begin her own journey to India. The notes represent the time the ships spent in harbour, and the silence is the time spent at sea. The Discovery is represented by the flute, the Palsgrave by the violin, and the Mary by the horn.

14 September 2020

Digital geographical narratives with Knight Lab’s StoryMap

Add comment

Visualising the journey of a manuscript’s creation

Working for the Qatar Digital Library (QDL), I recently catalogued British Library oriental manuscript 2361, a musical compendium copied in Mughal India during the reign of Aurangzeb (1618-1707; ruled from 1658). The QDL is a British Library-Qatar Foundation collaborative project to digitise and share Gulf-related archival records, maps and audio recordings as well as Arabic scientific manuscripts.

Portrait of Aurangzeb on a horse
Figure 1: Equestrian portrait of Aurangzeb. Mughal, c. 1660-70. British Library, Johnson Album, 3.4. Public domain.

The colophons to Or. 2361 fourteen texts contain an unusually large – but jumbled-up – quantity of information about the places and dates it was copied and checked, revealing that it was largely created during a journey taken by the imperial court in 1663.

Example of handwritten bibliographic information: Colophon to the copy of Kitāb al-madkhal fī al-mūsīqī by al-Fārābī
Figure 2: Colophon to the copy of Kitāb al-madkhal fī al-mūsīqī by al-Fārābī, transcribed in Delhi, 3 Jumādá I, 1073 hijrī/14 December 1662 CE, and checked in Lahore, 22 Rajab 1073/2 March 1663. Or. 2361, f. 240r.

Seeking to make sense of the mass of bibliographic information and unpick the narrative of the manuscript’s creation, I recorded all this data in a spreadsheet. This helped to clarify some patterns- but wasn’t fun to look at! To accompany an Asian and African Studies blog post, I wanted to find an interactive digital tool to develop the visual and spatial aspects of the story and convey the landscapes and distances experienced by the manuscript’s scribes and patron during its mobile production.

Screen shot of a spreadsheet of copy data for Or. 2361 showing information such as dates, locations, scribes etc.
Figure 3: Dull but useful spreadsheet of copy data for Or. 2361.

Many fascinating digital tools can present large datasets, including map co-ordinates. However, I needed to retell a linear, progressive narrative with fewer data points. Inspired by a QNF-BL colleague’s work on Geoffrey Prior’s trip to Muscat, I settled on StoryMap, one of an expanding suite of open-source reporting, data management, research, and storytelling tools developed by Knight Lab at Northwestern University, USA.

 

StoryMap: Easy but fiddly

Requiring no coding ability, the back-end of this free, easy-to-use tool resembles PowerPoint. The user creates a series of slides to which text, images, captions and copyright information can be added. Links to further online media, such as the millions of images published on the QDL, can easily be added.

Screen shot of someone editing in StoryMap
Figure 4: Back-end view of StoryMap's authoring tool.

The basic incarnation of StoryMap is accessed via an author interface which is intuitive and clear, but has its quirks. Slide layouts can’t be varied, and image manipulation must be completed pre-upload, which can get fiddly. Text was faint unless entirely in bold, especially against a backdrop image. A bug randomly rendered bits of uploaded text as hyperlinks, whereas intentional hyperlinks are not obvious.

 

The mapping function

StoryMap’s most interesting feature is an interactive map that uses OpenStreetMap data. Locations are inputted as co-ordinates, or manually by searching for a place-name or dropping a pin. This geographical data links together to produce an overview map summarised on the opening slide, with subsequent views zooming to successive locations in the journey.

Screen shot showing a preview of StoryMap with location points dropped on a world map
Figure 5: StoryMap summary preview showing all location points plotted.

I had to add location data manually as the co-ordinates input function didn’t work. Only one of the various map styles suited the historical subject-matter; however its modern street layout felt contradictory. The ‘ideal’ map – structured with global co-ordinates but correct for a specific historical moment – probably doesn’t exist (one for the next project?).

Screen shot of a point dropped on a local map, showing modern street layout
Figure 6: StoryMap's modern street layout implies New Delhi existed in 1663...

With clearly signposted advanced guidance, support forum, and a link to a GitHub repository, more technically-minded users could take StoryMap to the next level, not least in importing custom maps via Mapbox. Alternative platforms such as Esri’s Classic Story Maps can of course also be explored.

However, for many users, Knight Lab StoryMap’s appeal will lie in its ease of usage and accessibility; it produces polished, engaging outputs quickly with a bare minimum of technical input and is easy to embed in web-text or social media. Thanks to Knight Lab for producing this free tool!

See the finished StoryMap, A Mughal musical miscellany: The journey of Or. 2361.

 

This is a guest post by Jenny Norton-Wright, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator from the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter at @BLQatar.

12 June 2020

Making Watermarks Visible: A Collaborative Project between Conservation and Imaging

Add comment

Some of the earliest documents being digitised by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership are a series of ship’s journals dating from 1605 - 1705, relating to the East India Company’s voyages. Whilst working with these documents, conservators Heather Murphy and Camille Dekeyser-Thuet noticed within the papers a series of interesting examples of early watermark design. Curious about the potential information these could give regarding the journals, Camille and Heather began undertaking research, hoping to learn more about the date and provenance of the papers, trade and production patterns involved in the paper industry of the time, and the practice of watermarking paper. There is a wealth of valuable and interesting information to be gained from the study of watermarks, especially within a project such as the BLQFP which provides the opportunity for study within both IOR and Arabic manuscript material. We hope to publish more information relating to this online with the Qatar Digital Library in the form of Expert articles and visual content.

The first step within this project involved tracing the watermark designs with the help of a light sheet in order to begin gathering a collection of images to form the basis of further research. It was clear that in order to make the best possible use of the visual information contained within these watermarks, they would need to be imaged in a way which would make them available to audiences in both a visually appealing and academically beneficial form, beyond the capabilities of simply hand tracing the designs.

Hand tracings of the watermark designs
Hand tracings of the watermark designs

 

This began a collaboration with two members of the BLQFP imaging team, Senior Imaging Technician Jordi Clopes-Masjuan and Senior Imaging Support Technician Matt Lee, who, together with Heather and Camille, were able to devise and facilitate a method of imaging and subsequent editing which enabled new access to the designs. The next step involved the construction of a bespoke support made from Vivak (commonly used for exhibition mounts and stands). This inert plastic is both pliable and transparent, which allowed the simultaneous backlighting and support of the journal pages required to successfully capture the watermarks.

Creation of the Vivak support
Creation of the Vivak support
Imaging of pages using backlighting
Imaging of pages using backlighting
Studio setup for capturing the watermarks
Studio setup for capturing the watermarks

 

Before capturing, Jordi suggested we create two comparison images of the watermarks. This involved capturing the watermarks as they normally appear on the digitised image (almost or completely invisible), and how they appear illuminated when the page is backlit. The theory behind this was quite simple: “to obtain two consecutive images from the same folio, in the exact same position, but using a specific light set-up for each image”.

By doing so, the idea was for the first image to appear in the same way as the standard, searchable images on the QDL portal. To create these standard image captures, the studio lights were placed near the camera with incident light towards the document.

The second image was taken immediately after, but this time only backlight was used (light behind the document). In using these two different lighting techniques, the first image allowed us to see the content of the document, but the second image revealed the texture and character of the paper, including conservation marks, possible corrections to the writing, as well as the watermarks.

One unexpected occurrence during imaging was, due to the varying texture and thickness of the papers, the power of the backlight had to be re-adjusted for each watermark.

First image taken under normal lighting conditions
First image taken under normal lighting conditions 
Second image of the same page taken using backlighting
Second image of the same page taken using backlighting 

https://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100000001273.0x000342

 

Previous to our adopted approach, other imaging techniques were also investigated: 

  • Multispectral photography: by capturing the same folio under different lights (from UV to IR) the watermarks, along with other types of hidden content such as faded ink, would appear. However, it was decided that this process would take too long for the number of watermarks we were aiming to capture.
  • Light sheet: Although these types of light sheets are extremely slim and slightly flexible, we experienced some issues when trying the double capture, as on many occasions the light sheet was not flexible enough, and was “moving” the page when trying to reach the gutter (for successful final presentation of the images it was mandatory that the folio on both captures was still).

Once we had successfully captured the images, Photoshop proved vital in allowing us to increase the contrast of the watermark and make it more visible. Because every image captured was different, the approach to edit the images was also different. This required varying adjustments of levels, curves, saturation or brightness, and combining these with different fusion modes to attain the best result. In the end, the tools used were not as important as the final image. The last stage within Photoshop was for both images of the same folio to be cropped and exported with the exact same settings, allowing the comparative images to match as precisely as possible.

The next step involved creating a digital line drawing of each watermark. Matt Lee, a Senior Imaging Support Technician, imported the high-resolution image captures onto an iPad and used the Procreate drawing app to trace the watermarks with a stylus pen. To develop an approach that provided accurate and consistent results, Matt first tested brushes and experimented with line qualities and thicknesses. Selecting the Dry Ink brush, he traced the light outlines of each watermark on a separate transparent layer. The tracings were initially drawn in white to highlight the designs on paper and these were later inverted to create black line drawings that were edited and refined.

Tracing the watermarks directly from the screen of an iPad provided a level of accuracy and efficiency that would be difficult to achieve on a computer with a graphics tablet, trackpad or computer mouse. There were several challenges in tracing the watermarks from the image captures. For example, the technique employed by Jordi was very effective in highlighting the watermarks, but it also made the laid and chain lines in the paper more prominent and these would merge or overlap with the light outline of the design.

Some of the watermarks also appeared distorted, incomplete or had handwritten text on the paper which obscured the details of the design. It was important that the tracings were accurate and some gaps had to be left. However, through the drawing process, the eye began to pick out more detail and the most exciting moment was when a vague outline of a horse revealed itself to be a unicorn with inset lettering.

Vector image of unicorn watermark
Vector image of unicorn watermark

 

In total 78 drawings of varying complexity and design were made for this project. To preserve the transparent backgrounds of the drawings, they were exported first as PNG files. These were then imported into Adobe Illustrator and converted to vector drawings that can be viewed at a larger size without loss of image quality.

Vector image of watermark featuring heraldic designs(Drawing)
Vector image of watermark featuring heraldic designs

 

Once the drawings were complete, we now had three images - the ‘traditional view’ (the page as it would normally appear), the ‘translucid view’ (the same page backlit and showing the watermark) and the ‘translucid + white view’ (the translucid view plus additional overlay of the digitally traced watermark in place on the page).

Traditional view
Traditional view
Translucid view
Translucid view
Translucid view with watermark highlighted by digital tracingtranslucid+white view
Translucid view with watermark highlighted by digital tracing

 

Jordi was able to take these images and, by using a multiple slider tool, was able to display them on an offline website. This enabled us to demonstrate this tool to our team and present the watermarks in the way we had been wishing from the beginning, allowing people to both study and appreciate the designs.

Watermarks Project Animated GIF

 

This is a guest post by Heather Murphy, Conservator, Jordi Clopes-Masjuan, Senior Imaging Technician and Matt Lee, Senior Imaging Support Technician from the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter at @BLQatar.